tv Battle of Little Bighorn CSPAN August 29, 2014 8:01pm-8:41pm EDT
left by native americans as much as 9000 years ago. in the battle of the little acorn, also known as custer's warriors killed the commanding u.s. officer, george custer. we will hear about the conflict from a park ranger at the little --rn national monument little bighorn national monument in montana. >> folks, this is an incredible story. it's a story that attracts 400,000 people a year from all over the world. come through that gate. the vast majority of them, 90% of the time never been here in
their lives. i like to see who you are this morning. if you've never been here in your life, please put your hand up. now hold it way up. now, just look around. it's always the same. 90% of the folks come here never been here in their life, and yet, except for these little tykes over here, there's nobody in this audience who has never heard of george armstrong custer. there's nobody in this audience who has never heard of sitting bull or crazy horse. and i promise you this, there's nobody here who has never heard of elvis presley. well, folks, it's a simple story. and yet it's a complex story. you are on the battlefield right now. and it stretches five miles to the south of us, well beyond the
in the hill, way out there, five miles. on june 25, 1876, george in the hill, way out there, five armstrong custer with 647 troops will attack a massive camp located about a mile and a half to two miles to the south of us down in the river valley bottom. there's 8,000 people in that village. 1,500 to 2,000 of them are warriors. custer will have 647 troops. it's the only battlefield in the country, only one of two in the whole world, where white markers indicate where soldiers were killed on the battlefield and buried where they fell. red markers, like the one at the mouth of deep ravine, just to the left of this gentleman, 17 warrior markers across the battlefield, much more warriors died in the fight. but we've got 17 markers placed there by oral histories and families. they're not buried on the battlefield. they are picked up very quickly and later buried in trees and caves and scaffolding. on top of the hill, just below the monument, custer perishes at the age of 36 years old. buried in an 18-inch grave.
disinterred a year later, what armstrong custer with 647 troops was left of him, placed in a box about this big, taken back to west point, where he's buried today. five years after the battle, skeletal remains all over the ground scraped up by reburial detail, placed in a mass grave on top of the hill in 1881 where the monument now stands. across the street, the indian memorial dedicated in 2003 to the warriors and tribes who fought here in a desperate attempt to hang on to their very way of life. and behind us, a national cemetery with the remains of nearly 5,000 veterans and their families, not related to the battle, like arlington veterans, spanish-american war, world war i, world war ii,
korea, and vietnam. closed in 1978, full to capacity today. was left of him, placed in a box folks, it's quiet here now. it's peaceful. tranquility here. but 137 years ago, on the back of that ridge, it was far from quiet. in fact, it was apocalyptic chaos, gunfire, smoke, yelling, screaming, cursing, more ammo, more ammo, eagle bone whistles shrieking across the battlefield in the bust and the smoke. warriors getting closer and closer and closer, desperately trying to destroy the soldier command. apocalypse at little big horn, custer's final battle. how did this happen? why did it happen? well, folks, it's really a
culminating event because it marks nearly 400 years of cultural animosity, cultural friction, cultural disdain folks, it's quiet here now. between euro-americans and native americans and the fight was always over the same thing -- >> land. >> land. land -- who would occupy it, how it would be used, and who will be allowed to traverse across it, because, you see, when euro-americans come out west, see huge expanses of territory. and they see grass and water and timber. and minerals in the ground, particularly that yellow metal that makes the white man go crazy. and when they see all of these resources, they envision farms and towns, ranches, railroads, telegraphs, and barbed-wire
fences, all of it driven by a near religion called manifest destiny. manifest destiny, the belief that somehow euro-americans are sanctioned, they're ordained by god to spread across the continent. conquer it, subdue it, tame it. from coast to coast. from sea to shining sea. there's just one problem with that vision. there's people already here. and they have their own vision of what life should be like, and i'm going to argue this. they are the freest people on earth, because when they get horses in the early 1700's, they can go from mexico to canada in pursuit of huge herds of the 1,400-pound super walking walmart store of the plains. food, shelter, clothing,
weapons, utensils, fuel, medicines, and about 50 other uses. and, by the way, ladies and gentlemen, in 1840, there are 60 million buffalo on the plains. and by 1890, less than 500 left on the planet. when euro-americans come out west, they want to turn the sioux and cheyenne and arapaho and blackfoot and crow, they want to turn them into christian farmers. well, sitting bull is not about to bend over and scratch and claw at the ground with a hoe to try to make a living. and crazy horse is not going to surrender his pony and hook it up to a plow. they are hunters and warriors. and that's their vision. folks, in the mid 1870s, 1873, there's an economic crisis. the stock market crashes. the banking system rolls over.
the panic of 1873, people are losing their jobs, their life savings. there's 20% unemployment. does any of that ring a bell? it's tough times in america. ulysses s. grant is the president of the united states. he's going to have to rev up the economy or he's not going to get re-elected. he needs an economic stimulus package, and george custer is going to provide it. gold in the black hills. the summer of 1874 custer leads an expedition. now it is a reality. there is gold in the black hills. newspaper reports say all you have to do is walk through the grass and pick up nuggets off the tops of your shoes. miners, prospectors pour into the hills. overnight, deadwood. 3,000, 4,000 people real quick. every one of them is an illegal alien because the black hills
belong to the sioux, guaranteed by the treaty of 1868, a white man's promise. no white people allowed in the black hills. wild bill hickok shot in the back of the head. he's an illegal alien. so is his friend calamity jane, because the sioux call the hills paha sapa, sacred ground. president grant sees an opportunity there. he wants to get at that gold, rev up the economy, create jobs. put pun money in the treasury, so he's going to try to buy the black hills. $7 million, that is a of a lot of money. y horse,ing bull, crazing pu no, not for sale. you don't sell the ground your ancestors walked on and now their remains lie beneath. not for sale.
well, how about if we lease them? we'll give them back when we're done. no, thanks. in frustration, grant hands the problem over to the war department, the architects of a back. -- the architects of a military department, the architects of a campaign, to sweep the sioux back. it's going to be designed by two old civil war comrades. if you remember, those two old boys burned down half of the south in the war between the states. they know what total war is and they're going to try to wage it again on the northern plains. they're going to issue an ultimatum to the sioux. it's pretty straightforward. it goes like this. get out of the black hills. get out of the powder river country. get out of the rosebud country and go back to your respective reservations in the dakotas and
stay there. and do so by january 31, 1876, because if you don't, you're going to be considered hostile. and the army will come and get you and force you to return. runners are sent out to inform the villages of this edict, but it's a bitter winter. the winter of 1875 and 1876, howling winds, drifting snow. 45 below zero, not uncommon on the northern plains. you're not going to move a village. there's no grass for the ponies. but more commanding than the weather itself is the council from sitting bull who says to the people, don't go back. don't go back to that reservation and make yourself a slave to a piece of fat bacon and some coffee and sugar. stay out. live like a real indian while you still can. hunt buffalo while they still exist. he knew the sun was going down. and so they stayed out. they didn't go back.
and by the early spring, those who wintered on the agencies began to trickle off and reinforce sitting bull and crazy horse out here. and by the early summer, they are pouring off the reservations. so much so that once again we've got this village two miles to the south of us. 8,000 people in it. 1,500 to 2,000 warriors that are not going back. to bad flour and rotten meat and starvation on the reservation. they're going to stay out here. the stage is set. reinforce sitting bull and crazy horse out here. and by the early summer, they are pouring off the reservations. so much so that once again we've 8:00 in the morning, george armstrong custer is up on those wolf mountains way out there on the far horizon, 15 miles out. a place called the crow's nest. his scouts have gotten up on top there and they've looked down in the wee hours of the morning and they've seen smoke rising from the tipis. he goes up to the crow's nest at
8:00 in the morning, looks down into the valley with a cheap spy glass, but he can't see a thing because the breakfast campfires have turned the valley into los angeles. the scouts tell them, look for worms in the grass. folks, little big horn river is right below us. that thick green line of trees at the bottom of the ridge. across the valley to the second line of trees, above those trees on the bluffs, the morning of the 25th, there's 20,000 horses grazing. 20,000. worms in the grass. custer can't see them. the scouts are very alarmed. you better not go down there. you don't have enough bullets in your whole command to fight the sioux. but other scouts see it differently. you better attack because that village is going to run. they're going to scatter. they're not going to fight. custer's favorite scout bloody
knife and arickerus says to him, general, if you and i go down there today, we'll go home on a road we've never walked before. custer says, i think we can get to all of them in one day. fearless, aggressive, relentless, vain, arrogant, overconfident, a glory hunter. well, folks, for 137 years, he's been judged by one battle. his last one. however, the record shows that he has been in battle after battle after fight after battle in the american civil war. 100 engagements. he's had 11 horses shot right out from underneath him. sabre charges. no scars.
sometimes he so far out ahead of this man he's in confederate territory all by himself. when lee surrenders to grant in the spring of 1865, surrender documents are signed, ceremony is concluded. when it's all over with, phil sheridan picks up the table that the documents were signed on, later presents it to elizabeth custer with these words -- "i don't know of anyone who has played a greater role than ending this tragic conflict than your gallant husband." that table is in the smithsonian today. arrogant, vain, overconfident, aggressive, fearless, relentless, legendary. the boy general, brigadier, 23, major general, 26. he leads thousands of men into battle time after time after time.
his success, the adulation he receives, the recognition is going to contribute to his death certificate on the back of that aggressive, fearless, relentless, legendary. ridge. custer decides he's going to attack. he orders captain frederick benteen off to the south to scout with 120 men, three companies. benteen hates custer's guts. has no use for him. benteen questions his orders. general, if this village is as big as they say it is, we're going to need every man we've got. you have your orders, benteen. follow them. you're dismissed. benteen hates custer. custer hates benteen. reno hates both of them. reno and custer come off the divide 12 miles out. seven miles out. three miles out in the river crossing. the scout gerard sees 60 racing toward the village in the north.
he screams out, there go your indians, general. and they're running. like devils. custer sends an immediate order to major marcus reno, second in command. major reno, the village is just ahead and running away. move forward at as rapid a gait as you deem prudent. pitch into anything. sweep everything before you and you'll be supported by the whole outfit. reno crosses the stream. he cinches up his equipment, tightens the saddle girths and charges down the valley toward the massive camp four miles beyond. he's got 140 men. inside the village, it's chaos. they didn't expect to fight. they're caught off guard. when the village crier see the soldiers, they scream out, the chargers are coming. the long knives. the blue coats.
old women hobbling on sticks trying to get away. young mothers frantically racing around trying to find their children who are swimming and playing. inside the camp, sitting bull, 45 years old, spirit warrior, too old to fight, but not to lead. he exhorts the warriors on. brave up, brave up, strong hearts to the front. cowards to the rear. it's a good day to die. 14-, 15-year-olds race out of the village on horseback. they tie sage brush to the backs of their ponyies' tails and ride back and forth creating a giant just cloud. as he thunders down the valley faster and faster and faster at 700 yards, he knows two things. number one, the village is not running away.
and, number two, he's never fought the sioux and the cheyenne before. at 400 yards, he will scream out, halt, dismount. form skirmish lines now. fight on foot. 140 men attempt to rein their horses in at 20 miles an hour. privates smith and turley, two city boys. they don't know how to ride too well. they can't even stop. they go right into the camp. their heads later found on poles. 138 men dig in. every fourth man is a horse holder. he takes his horse and three others.
pulls them off the battle line, back into the timber along the river, protect horses and ammunition from the advancing warriors. now that cuts down the firing line to 90 soldiers spread across the valley floor in five-yard intervals, skirmish line formation. and in 10 minutes, they'll face 600 warriors. the company commanders order volley fire. they take their big boar springfield car bean, 45, 55 trap door single shot. it shoots a big bullet. and if it hits you, you're going down. and most likely some of your anatomy is going to fall off. they open the trap, drop the cartridge into the breach. close the trap. cock the weapon. ready, aim, fire. boom, 90 guns go off. open the trap. eject the spent cartridge. throw a fresh round in. close the trap. cock the weapon. ready, aim, fire, boom, another 90 rounds go off. big bullets rumbling into the village, crashing into the tipis and dropping some of them
on the ground. inside the village, a warrior named gall. gall is painting himself up for war. he's 6 feet tall and he weighs 250 pounds. his two wives and three daughters are killed by reno's another 90 rounds go off. charge. when he found out, he said, it made my heart bad. and i fought back. with the hatchet. gall, crazy horse, they roar out of the village like angry bees out of a hive and slam into reno. after 20 minutes, reno collapses and falls back into the timber. he digs in for a second stand but now the warriors light the grass on fire behind him. they snap buffalo blankets and run off his horses. he's feeling very, very uncomfortable. he finally screams out to the scout bloody knife. bloody knife, what are the indians going to do? boom. bloody knife takes a bullet right in the head.
his hot brains and blood go all over reno's face. right then and there, major marcus reno invented the modern term post-traumatic stress syndrome. he barks out conflicting orders. mount, dismount, mount. guys are going up and down and then he screams out, those who want to make their escape and live, follow me. he crashes out of the timber, races back towards the river four miles beyond, other soldiers are trying to catch up. it's a rout. there's no attempt to cover the retreat at all. warriors race up next to the fleeing soldiers and pump their winchester and henry repeating rifles into the command. two moon said, we mowed the soldiers down. it was like a buffalo hunt. we came up behind the soldiers. we slipped our bow strings over the soldiers' heads and jerked them off their horses, pounded
them with clubs and took their guns. and we counted -- which means to touch an enemy with a stick. you're not brave. why are you here? you did not bring enough soldiers. you better go back and get more. 40 men will die in this race with death through a gauntlet of hell. they get to the river crossing. horses plunge off the bank, crash into the stream. flounder, and men drowned. warriors on top of the ridges rain bullets into the crossing. ladies and gentlemen, the river was red with blood. this was war. it wasn't cowboys and indians. it wasn't john wayne. it was war. reno scratches and thrashes across the river, climbs out on to the bank. gets on top of the high ground five miles to the south of us.
this road will take you right to it. he is a fractured commander and his battalion is whipped and demoralized. about 10 minutes later, captain benteen approaches reno on the high bluff after scouting to the south. he sees reno and snarls, where's custer? reno says, i don't know where custer is, but for god's sake, benteen, halt your command and help me. i've lost half my men. benteen has a message in his pocket. it's from custer, delivered to benteen on the back trail by south. martini, the italian orderly of the day who has a real tough time with english. benteen hands the note to reno. it reads, benteen, come quick. come on, big village. bring packs. p.s., bring packs.
ammunition packs. neither one of those officers is going to respond with any sense of urgency to that order, and it will haunt them for the rest of their days. in the meantime, custer advances to the north with five companies, 209 men. he tries to go down off the ridge and cross the river at medicine tail coolee, 2 1/2 miles to the south of us, it's a low point in the valley, a freeway crossing into the cheyenne camp. all companies gather at a place called calhoun hill today. if you'll lend me your eyes, i want to show you where that is. ok, we've got the monument. we go south along the monument. we see that suv on the ridge.
by the way, that wasn't here in 1876. we drop down the ridge and then it rises up. three clumps of green brush. can you see it out there, folks? it's a big country. three clumps of green brush just beyond there was calhoun hill. james calhoun, custer's brother-in-law, with about 85 soldiers, he forms a skirmish line facing the south. and for 45 minutes he flails away trying to hold warriors back, but then gall, crow king, low dog, crazy horse, after pounding reno into hopeless submission, they peel off of reno, roar down, and slam into calhoun hill like a red tidal wave. company l and james calhoun are blown off the ridge. a thousand yards out in front of us, c company mounts their horses and charges down the hill, driving warriors back. they dismount and form a skirmish line and fire into the fleeing warriors. temporarily there's a change in
momentum. but a southern cheyenne chief named lame white man, he gets off his horse in the middle of the battle field, turned to the fleeing warriors and says, come back, come back. there's not that many soldiers. we can kill them all. they rally up behind lame white man, storm back up the ridge and crash into c company. they snap buffalo blankets and run off c company horses and they kill their horse holders. most of the c company boys are cut down. those few left alive unhorsed and they run to the top of battle ridge. hoards of warriors race down the west side of the river and cross below us that deep ravine. they pound up the ridge 200 yards out in front of us and go right up on top of the ridge. they look down hearing gunfire on the other side, and they see crazy horse. crazy horse is fearless, aggressive, relentless, and he
is hostile to any white intrusion into the powder river country. he's also 36 years old, the same age as custer, and he has no fear, because as a kid, he's had a vision, the great spirit comes to him in a dream at the age of 14 and says you are to protect your people. bullets and arrows will never harm you. you will not die from a bullet or an arrow. but be humble. don't boast or brag. don't draw attention to yourself. a very tough assignment in a warrior culture that's much like the nfl. crazy horse charges down the ridge and goes right into the teeth of miles keel, the fighting irishman. company i commander. 45 dismounted skirmishers fire at crazy horse. boom, they don't hit him. they reload a second time. white bull does a bravery run right in front of keel. boom, they don't hit him either. the other warriors inspired by
the courage of crazy horse and white bull chaurge charge down the ridge, slam into keel and grind company i into gall whose overrun calhoun hill from the south. company i ceases to exist. the only remnants of the firefight, 45 white tombstones on the other side of the hill. they look like ghosts in a lunch line. one survivor. a horse named comanche. miles keel's horse shot full of holes. leaking blood all over the prairie. they found it down by the river sucking in water, but more is leaking out than it can take in. the horse is put on the boat far west, taken back to ft. abraham lincoln. that horse will live another 16 years. never ridden again. the only time a saddle touches that horse's back is in a funeral with boots pointed backwards. by the way, folks, that horse
ate apple pie whenever it wanted. it's resting in a glass case now in lawrence, kansas. calhoun is dead. keel crushed. lieutenant custer swings out beyond probably 80 soldiers. he's going to go out through the current cemetery, drop off the ridge and try to cross the river and capture the women and children and screaming old people who have fled to the north to escape reno's charge. lots of warrior accounts testify to this maneuver. but he can't get across the river. once again, veterans turn him around. he has to fight his way back up through here where he drives warriors off the top of the hill and digs in where the monument now stands. about the same time that keel caves in. and as i said, folks, at the very beginning, now the fuel fury of 1500 to 2,000 warriors will bear down on to last stand hill. the sky is raining arrows.
gunfire, smoke, yelling, screaming, cursing. warriors getting closer and closer. two moon, the cheyenne chief. we swirled around the soldiers like water around a stone. gall, the soldiers were fighting good. they were loading and firing and loading and firing. but 35 or 40 of them on gray horses, bolted off the ridge. they went down into the ravine and we killed them all. 28 dead men found after the battle in a heap at the bottom of this trail. buried in a crack in the earth. e company, the gray horse troupe. back up on the hill. cheyenne wooden leg. it looked like a thousand dogs in a fight. low dog. the soldiers kept fight bug then they threw their big guns on the ground, and they took out their little guns and they tried to kill us, but they shot wildly in the sky as their horses bucked
and shied and pulled them all around. a desperate order. shoot your horse. boom! a bullet in your horse's head. 39 dead horses found around the monument. you're not going home now. you just shot your transportation and you are hiding behind horse flesh. there's nowhere to run to. and, by god, there's nowhere to hide. warriors get closer and closer. they ask gall ten years after the battle, how long did the fight last? he said about as long as it takes for a hungry man to eat his dinner. and then the shots. boom! quit coming. boys and old men watching in the draws and the ravines. mounted their horses, stormed up the hill, rode ride into the
crowd of survivors and pounded them to death. then they raced down to meet reno and benteen who had made a feeble effort to advance to the sound of the gunfire, drove them back, pinned them down, trapped them under siege for the next 24 hours. benteen will step up for a shellshocked reno. it's a groundhog case, men. it's do or die. dig rifle pits now, and they began to scratch and claw at the ground with cups and spoons and pocketknives in their hands. those rifle pits are still there there. 24 hours later, the massive village begins to break up and scatter to the south as they detect the oncoming advancing column of gibbon and terry from the north. and by the time the sun goes
down, june 26, 1876, only a handful of warriors in sight. benteen with courage and 24,000 rounds of ammunition has saved 350 on that hill to the south. 263 are dead. between 60 and 100 warriors have been killed in this battle, maybe more. we'll never know. in the battle of the little big horn is over. today it's quiet. it's peaceful. the battle is over. the war is over. the indian memorial on top of the hill has done much to hill the bitterness and anger and hostility that existed for years here. today it's quiet. there's a spirituality.
it's hallowed ground. i live on the battlefield, just beyond the cemetery as a ranger in ranger housing. sometimes i'm the only person here when the sun goes down. sometimes i'll take a walk late at night. about a month ago, the moon was bigger than i'd ever seen it. i walked up to last stand hill. i could read the names on the monument. it's a spiritual place. i felt it. i feel it every day. and i hope in some small way, ladies and gentlemen, by attending our presentation here this morning you have been introduced to the battle of little big horn, but more importantly, you connected with the spirit that exists here. you've been an excellent audience. i'll stick around for questions or comments. thank you very much. [applause] thank you. thank you very much.
after the battle of little big horn, the campaign goes on. it's called the great sioux war and lasted about 18 months from 1876 to 1877. most of the tribes dispersed from the village down below. there were still -- back at the reservation. but the ones in this village will disperse over the coming weeks and months and the army will pursue later in the fall and nothing much will happen. the largest battle after this is the battle in south dakota. crazy horse surrenders. sitting bull goes into canada. a lot of indians just go back to the reservation. one thing you have to understand is in 1887, all the reservations are established and they are being lived on. however, the indians could leave the reservations and hunt buffalo in what's called the unseeded territory.
it's often forgotten but it's the most important part of the story because that's where buffalo are. on the reservation, most buffaloes are gone and they are being given annuities. all the resistance kind of fizzles out. they do remain on the reservation, more or less, and they are enslaved to this reservation way of life of eating flour, drinking coffee, eating bacon and all the other things that come with it. being sedentary. no more raids on enemy tribes. handing your guns in. handing your horses in. and this reservation way of life that is a horrible way of life because they are so used to being so free. so the result of this battle is exactly that. custer lost, but the indians won, but overall, they lost the war. and there's a saying, two great nations met on a plain. one lost the battle. the other lost everything. and that's sort of a way of saying it.
one of the challenges we face for years and years was the anger from the united states public. they would come here and see only a memorial to the soldiers because this was a memorial to the soldiers early on after the battle. that's what it was all about. but this battlefield, this national monument, that last stand hill, sort of a live monument because it became a soapbox for native americans to come here and protest in the 1960's and 1970's their treatment on reservations and their way of life had disappeared and they had nowhere to go, they felt. and so the indian memorial was finally built in 2003 as a result of the protests that came here with aim. and now since the indian memorial is finally built and it's being engraved right now as we speak on the granite, engraved, the names of the warriors who fought and died
here, the anger of the public, the general public, is gone. as soon as they see the indian memorial and those red markers out there, the anger is gone. the pojoaque pueblo in new mexico. george rivera tells us about the traditions and histories of the pueblo, one of the 19 in new mexico. new mexico, there is eight puebloss north of -- north of santa fe. and today we are in pojaque.